A Quilt Scout Round-Up!

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout, Work | 3
Who’s that gal, sittin’ on a chair? It’s the Quilt Scout! It’s the Quilt Scout! Photo: Lucy Hewitt, 2018.



I have been a little relaxed about letting you all know when there’s a new Quilt Scout column up. But why?!

After all, this Scout continues to keep the home fires burning over there at Quilts, Inc., opining about all sorts of quilt-specific items twice a month. Besides, she’s been filing rather sparkling content of late, darnit. Most of the time, when I turn in my work to the (rakish) Bob G. and (steadfast) Rhianna G., I say, “This is my favorite column, yet, you guys!!” but lately, I’ve meant it even more.

If you go to the Quilts, Inc. Scout page, I guarantee you’ll find several pieces worth your time. What will likely show up first is my piece examining the similarity between music “zines” of the 1990s and the early publications of the late-20th-century American quilt revival. Fascinating stuff. The column I turned in last week might be up by the time you click, though, which is just as groovy: I offer tips for taking great quilt style photography. Trade secrets!? You bet.

Regardless of what comes up on the homepage, all my columns, most-recent first, are linked on the left of the page. These pieces shall surely provoke and entertain. Now, I mean “provoke” in a good way, as in “provoke thought” or “provoke reflection”, though I have been informed that several of my columns — presumably the post critiquing feminism/quilting and the one about the Smithsonian article — elicited angry letters! Yes! Several people were miffed and let their miffs be known in emails (okay, two) to my bosses. Well, I like that very much. Writing and/or reading about quilting shall never be dull because the quilt is alive and well and complicated. Let the discourse live!

See you at the Scout. And you know, speaking of feedback … If you like what you read and want the Scout to keep scouting — forever in service to you — let Quilts, Inc. know. We all need a little encouragement, even a fearless scout.

The Flight Family (And QuiltCon ’18)

posted in: Family, Quilting, Work | 11
A Scandinavian airline scene from 1968. That stewardess is literally serving prosciutto off the bone while her counterpart bones a fish. This is a real picture from real life. Photo: Wikipedia.


I’m back from Los Angeles, back from QuiltCon 2018. What an incredible show, what an incredible quilt culture we have in America. Just think of all the people and art and history and innovation and fun that comes together at a show like that. Incredible. Thank you to all who had anything to do with QuiltCon this year, from the people who made quilts in the show to those who just enjoyed the scenery from social media. We need everyone.

Things I did at QuiltCon included but were not limited to:

  • delivered a lecture on the AIDS Quilt (one of my best ever, I am satisfied to admit)
  • gave a tour of the AIDS Quilt panels I curated for the show
  • was interviewed by Angela Walters for Craftsy (thanks, Walters!!)
  • gave a lecture on the modern quilt and the future of it (*this also went well and I’ll return to the topic of the lecture in a future post)
  • interviewed people for Quiltfolk
  • meet’ed and greet’ed quilters at the BabyLock booth
  • saw amazing friends, fans, colleagues
  • drooled on quilts (not really, but close, okay maybe a little actual drool, oops, saarrry)

Things I did not do:

  • blog
  • take many pictures

The funny thing about a big show is that you think you’re going to have time away from the computer and therefore be free, somehow, to “take it all in” and then — if you’re me — write about it as soon as you get back to your hotel room. But that’s never how it works out for this one.

Conferences like Quilt Market and QuiltCon are so totally packed with activity, so totally frenetic with action — to the point of being almost manic — that when it’s time to shut my hotel door at the end of the long day, doing much of anything is highly unlikely, especially since my “anything” frequently involves thinking thoughts, crafting them into halfway-well-written sentences, then posting them for public consumption. Historically, I’m just not able to do anything that complicated at the end of a “show day.”

For example, one night I got into my room, ate some cheese popcorn and fell asleep with the lights on with a faint cheese powder ring around my mouth. The next night, after two celebratory margs with the Quiltfolk photographer (I’m telling you, I crushed my lectures; I deserved to tie one on), I got into my room, washed my face, and proclaimed, literally out loud, “Who needs pajamas?” and fell asleep in my shirt.

Thank goodness QuiltCon is done until next year because a) I don’t need to be eating cheese popcorn alone; and b) everyone needs pajamas. Besides, if I neglect my blog, think how many wonderful, interesting, hard, tricky, beautiful, strange, funny, frightening, and surprising stories and anecdotes and observations will never reach you? I have to reach you with these things; otherwise, where will they go?

For example: On the way to Los Angeles, the Southwest flight attendant got on the PA and said:

“Welcome to Southwest Airlines, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Rick, your head flight attendant this afternoon. Joining me today is my daughter, Bethany, in the back of the aircraft, and my son-in-law, John, is here at the front with me today!”

Isn’t that wonderful? The flight family! A family of flight attendants had all been able to arrange their schedules to be on the same flight. I thought that was really nice. I had a nice feeling about that.

And I needed to tell you.

Ooooh … Quiltfolk Issue 06 : Arizona

posted in: Art, Poetry, Quiltfolk, Quilting, Work | 10


Are you ready for this?

On or about April 1, the sixth issue of Quiltfolk is coming soon, everyone. The bad news is that you still have to wait a little bit; the good news is that she’s the best-yet issue of Quiltfolk and I’m honored to be a part of the team. It’s cool if you watch this teaser video like nine times while you wait for your copy of Issue 06 : Arizona. Friends, you will not believe what we found when we went to the desert to investigate quilts. Wow, wow, wow.

Hold onto your cowboy hats.


p.s. How about those red glasses on the blonde chick with the notebook?? I’m into it. 

Let’s Get Google to ‘Doodle’ Quilters! (xo, Quilt Scout)

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout, Work | 17
Hey, Google! Yo! Over here! Image: Wikipedia.


Ladies and a few gentlemen.

I know it’s early in the year, but I’m going to say it: If you read one Quilt Scout column in 2018, read the one I’m linking down below.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been noodling on how to go about petitioning Google to make a “Google Doodle” about a famous, important, special quilter. I’ve figured out the way, and the time is now — and I need you. We need you. There’s never been a Google Doodle about a quilter, ever. Ever! What’s up with that?

Questions you have may include: “What’s up with that?” and “What’s a Google Doodle?” and “Wait, what do I have to do?” and “Mary Fons what is even happening please explain.

That last one is not a question but there’s no time! This is all very easy: Head over to the Quilt Scout, read all about it, then vote. Let’s make sure the internet (read: world) never forgets how important quilters are and how much we contribute to society, art, and human beans everywhere. A Google Doodle is a legit way to do that, so let’s circle the wagons, people. Filling out the form will be your good deed for the day — well, unless you’ve done other good deeds today. Considering the people who make up my readership, it is highly likely you’ve amassed a number of good deeds already. That’s okay.


Mary “da Quilt Scout” Fons

Meet the New Editorial Director of Quiltfolk Magazine!

posted in: Quilting, Work | 109
Wait, who’s that chick in the red glasses?? Oh, it’s me! Photos by Melanie Zacek.


I kept saying there were big announcements coming soon, that I’d be sharing good news before long. Maybe some folks thought I was finally going to get my dream dog, Philip Larkin. Did anyone think I eloped?? That would be so cool if someone thought that.

There’s no Philip Larkin, yet, and I’m not as far as I know. I was promoted to Editorial Director of Quiltfolk magazine, though.

:: skips, jumps, trips on a stray sock, gets glass of water, returns ::

Can you stand it?? How cool is this?? To me, this the Coolest Thing Ever. Quiltfolk is doing is precisely what my heart is telling me — no, shouting at me — to do right now: investigate, celebrate, and honor quilt culture in America, past, present, and future. Quiltfolk is real. Quiltfolk is dreamy. Ergo, editorially directing Quiltfolk is a very real, very dream-y job for me. I have red marks on my arm from pinching myself for the past couple weeks. I’d better see my doctor about — oh, wait … Maybe not.

[Look, people, if I don’t laugh, I won’t stop crying about yesterday’s post. Thank you, everyone for listening to me — and to each other.]

A new job offers an opportunity to reflect on one’s professional life, don’t you think? I mean, when I was in high school and stopped waiting tables at the Pizza Hut north of town to wait tables at Northside Cafe on the town square, I recall doing some soul searching. Come with me for just a moment, will you, as I mull over this promotion?

It’s been about 10 years since I began working in earnest in what I saw at the time as my mother’s industry. I still think of it as her industry, honestly, and I’m okay with that. We’re all just standing on the shoulders of giants; my mother would say the same thing.

Anyway, in the early years I was a nervous beginner asking the dumb questions on “Love of Quilting.” A couple years later, I grew into what we call a “confident beginner,” able to create and host “Quilty,” an online how-to show for other beginners. “Quilty” grew a cult following for the five years it was on the internet-air, and I was able to use my freelance writing skills to serve as editor of “Quilty” magazine for four years. I wrote a book during that time. I dreamed of making a Mary Fons fabric line of reproduction fabrics and I did! I really did that and I loved that project. I’ve created and delivered a ton of webinars. And I have spent many, many days planning and executing gigs from one coast to the other, teaching and lecturing for (tens of?) thousands of quilters at this point.

**Quick note on that last thing: Between my former life as a Chicago theater professional and my experience as an itinerant quilt teacher/speaker, I fear no room. No grand auditorium, no tiny church basement, no ad hoc retreat center phases me. Beyond that, there is no tech failure I cannot work around. When the projector at a guild meeting in Oklahoma two years ago was DOA, I did my entire slideshow presentation with no slides. And you know what? I slayed.

The whole time, ceaselessly, I’ve been writing. Writing this blog; articles for Fons & Porter; the Quilt Scout; articles for magazines like Modern Patchwork and Curated Quilts. And, starting with Issue 04: Tennessee, I’ve been writing for Quiltfolk magazine.

One more point to make and then more about Quiltfolk:

All this stuff I’ve been up to over the past decade has been done in front of everyone. As I’ve grown (into) my career, I’ve been on display. Anything I do, it’s out there, right away. This is partly due to the Fons name, partly due to the internet overall, and partly due to this blog, of course. Without the ol’ PG, I could show you less. I could hide better. I could have career developments and changes and losses and trials and victories and failures and disappointments and agonies and ecstasies slightly more in private if I didn’t do what I’m doing right now, which is writing to thousands of subscribers about my life, on my couch, in my pajamas. With some chips, maybe.

(There are chips.)

My point — and I do have one — is that doing everything in full view is kookoo bananas … but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love growing up in front of you. You’re my tribe. You’re my people. I love you. You see me. And when I look at the comments and the paper mail, I think that you really do love me right back. (Woah.) And when people actually love you, they are happy for you when good things happen, and so you want to tell them. You want to celebrate, they want to celebrate. Because wow, life is hard, sometimes, but other times, it’s just really good. This is really good, this new opportunity Mike McCormick has given me. Thank you, Mike.

Quiltfolk is important. When you see it, if you haven’t seen it, yet, you’ll know. You’ll see.

In closing: To those of you who are wondering how I’m going to manage the new position while I’m in grad school, know that a) I’m almost done with school; b) the promotion at Quiltfolk forced me to resign — with class, diplomacy, and a promise to help in the transition — from the student newspaper; c) I’m not accepting any gigs for the foreseeable future; d) I’m considering bi-weekly Swedish massages until I finish graduate in on May 14th, 2018.

You’ll see it all, if you come with me.

So come with me, okay?

The Quiltdashians: Let Us Embrace Kim, Her Family, and Their Patchwork Ad Campaign

posted in: Fashion, Quilting, Work | 22
Strange bedfellows? Nah. The Calvin Klein ad campaign featuring the Kardashian sisters, 2018.


Speeding home in a taxi this evening, I gave in and opened the news app on my phone. Reading the news more than once a day is bad for a person’s health and I checked the blasted thing this morning already.

But if I hadn’t looked, I might not have seen the hot-off-the-fashion-presses story about Kim Kardashian West and her latest ad campaign for Calvin Klein. Kim is evidently now selling jeans for the company, and the ad campaign features Kim hanging out with her sisters, all of them in jeans and looking dewy/rich, talking about babies or boys or themselves, which is fine. It’s the Kardashian Way.

What is rather surprising, however, is that the girls are spread out on or coquettishly clutching … patchwork quilts.

Red and white quilts, specifically, and the quilts are the only visual cue on set. The girls are in a barn-like space (as evidenced by the wooden beams overhead, sort of) but this is way-in-the-back-backdrop.

In this ad, the quilts are very, very much the thing. Well, the quilts and the boobs.

Much will be said about this ad campaign. The fashion people will freak out about how daring and koo-koo bananas fabulous it is for Kim & Co. to use quilts of all things to sell tight jeans. How anachronistic! How gauche/glam! Old/new! Gag, gag, gag. (“Gag” is a good thing in this context.) Some fashion people will think it’s a misfire, I suppose, but haters will hate and the Kardashians are used to it.

I’d wager that way, way more quilters are going to be talking about this campaign than the fashion world people, though. And to offer the second surprise of the evening: I’ll bet most quilters will be excited about it.

Seriously. Quilters love quilts. We’re excited when we see them featured in mainstream media. Ken Burns was just interviewed in the New York Times about his exhibition at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and whatever you think about the New York Times, that was awesome. That article got shared like crazy among quilters. We like it when the other half notices what we know all day: Quilts matter, they are great, they have never gone anywhere, and they aren’t going anywhere, either.

And when a major celebrity puts a quilt in her photo shoot, we’re down. Sure, some ladies will tsk-tsk about Kim’s underpants and someone(s) somewhere will get their applique twisted that the quilts are on the floor. The haters will hate. People have different opinions about how we do all this. Quilters are used to it.

The Kim Kardashian/Calvin Klein quilt ad campaign is a good thing. Quilts are indelible, enduring symbols of domesticity and comfort, of home and care. They’re also kind of associated with women, if you haven’t noticed. And while you might not approve of the Kardashian cult of celebrity, or the annual monies spent by their empire on manicures/private jets, etc., you gotta admit: These folks are all about family and home. They’re about kids. Legacy. Tradition. Sounds like a quilt family to me. What do their extensions have to do with anything?

It’s a heck of a thing when a celebrity on the Kim Kardashian scale puts a quilt front and center in an ad campaign or a photo shoot. In fact, the Kim ads are so surprising precisely because this never really happens. Madonna has never done a quilt thing. Julia Roberts was never photographed for InStyle magazine with a quilt on her lap. Oprah hasn’t taken up sewing hexies at her ranch house. The only other big-time celebrity I can think of who really pushed the quilt into pop culture was Gloria Vanderbilt, and that was 40 years ago! In the 1980s! She was super into crazy quilts and had fashion designer Adolfo make robes for her to wear around her Log Cabin-decorated house.

But Gloria doesn’t have a reality show, y’all, and she ain’t married to Kanye West. This is probably a good move on Gloria’s part, no disrespect to Kanye. I’m thinking of the age difference.

Anyway, this post has been dashed off pretty fast; maybe too fast. I try to ruminate on things before I start typing. But by the time the taxi dropped me off at my building, I had gone through a (hopefully) robust thought process on all this and I’m okay if there’s more to say later. For now, I feel confident that quilters, on balance, are going to cheer about Kim and the red-and-whites.

They may not buy the jeans.

Quilt Moment of Zen No. 93711: The Golden Circle Ladies, c. 1973.

posted in: Quilting | 6
The Golden Circle ladies, c. 1973. Image: Wikipedia.


Hello, beautiful.

I know you’re just dying for sparkling prose and/or investigative journalism, but today’s post will be simply a quilt moment of zen. Here’s why:

  1. I’m on a super-secret business trip, which means I can’t write about what I did today. Or yesterday. Or what I’ll do tomorrow. I will, but I can’t right now.
  2. I keep falling asleep while I’m typing.
  3. The above picture is incredible and you just need to see it.

This picture was found where all my pictures are found, Wikipedia. But it came by way of the gov’ment; The image officially belongs to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I tell you this because NARA has a lot of interesting photographs and you should go look through all 90 billion of them (or however many there are) on a rainy day. I mean it!

Anyway, this picture was taken in 1973 by one Charles O’Rear near Lincoln, Nebraska, and the glowing, generous spirits in the picture are listed as “members of the Golden Circle Senior Citizens Club of Fairmont.”

Don’t you love them? Don’t you just love them all down to bits?

Quilts are good for calming spirits; quilters can do the same. Well, not all of them. That lady in the way back looks a little grumpy.

The Quilt Scout Is IN: ‘Raining On My Parade’

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout | 4
She’s reading a book about quilts. Image: Wikipedia.


We interrupt the trotting out of holiday traditions for a special announcement: My latest Quilt Scout column is up! And I really do need to let you know that because I forgot to do it last week.

You’ll soon see that the column is sober in tone; that’s by design. In the piece, I examine how hard it is to learn things that challenge what we think — even what we love. It happened to me recently while I was doing quilt history research and writing it out for the ol’ Scout helped me cope. Maybe it’ll get you thinking, too.

Anywhoop, I’ll be back tomorrow with Holiday Tradition No. 2.

(It involves ‘tockins.)

Patchwork: It’s Not Happening Right Now

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting | 17
The “RMI Deluxe Tailor Super Model” sewing machine! I think it’s Chinese. Image: Wikipedia.


Ever had times in your life when you looked longingly at your sewing machine and sighed a deep sigh because you knew there wasn’t a bobbin’s chance in you-know-where that you were going to sit down and sew anytime soon?

Ever unplugged your machine so that you could vacuum real good around the table only to realize, two weeks later, you never plugged it back in because you have not even been over to that side of the room in two weeks?

Yeah, me, same.

Hey, man. There are seasons in our lives. There are seasons when we reap, and there are seasons when we — wait for it — sew. For me, it’s just not a “sewing” season and I have to be okay with that.*

Sometimes, when I don’t get any exercise for awhile, I get very dramatic about it in my mind and think, “That’s it! It’s over! I’ll never have what I used to have, which was a somewhat regular exercise regimen!” The same goes with quiltmaking. I look back at my output over the past six or nine months and, if it looks like it looks now, which is bad, I feel like, “Whelp! That’s it! I’m a phony! How can I even call myself a quilter?? I’m all talk!”

But of course, this is ridiculous.

Sometimes, I just can’t exercise because I’m flying all over the country, for Lord’s sake. Sometimes, I can’t make a big quilt (or five) because I’m in grad school and more or less working full time. It’s okay, I tell myself. It’ll smooth out because I like exercising. I like making quilts. These things are going to be there for me when I get done with this other stuff — and I’ll be there for them, too, ready and excited to pick up where I left off, hopefully.

Yes, the “I’ll get to it when I have more time” mentality can be a problem. It can lead to inertia and self-sabotage.

But sometimes, it’s just true that you’ll do it later. Sometimes, when you have to choose between sleep and a round of cardio boxing, you gotta go with sleep. When you have to choose between getting the reading done and working on something that does not currently have a deadline attached to it (aka, your latest-greatest quilt), the reading has to win. For you, you might have to choose the kids, the needs of the spouse, the upcoming move, the divorce, the second job — any of that, over the other stuff. For now.

When school is over in May, I swear, the rest of my life is going to feel like a vacation. I’m going be in very good shape and I will make two quilts every single week.


*You get the joke, right? Sow/sew? I had to make sure! 

A Moment of Quilt Zen.

posted in: Quilting | 3
Oak Leaf Variant quilt by Mrs. M.E. Poyner, c. 1860. Paducah, Kentucky. 74″ x 86.” Collection of Bill Volckening, Portland, Oregon. Image: Wikipedia.


It’s been a long week.

I want to be with you all so much but I’m plum tuckered out. So the best thing to do is to offer you (and my own self) this Quilt Moment of Zen.

You’re gazing at a variation on the Oak Leaf pattern made in 1860 by one Mrs. M.E. Poyner. The quilt was made in Paducah, Kentucky, and measures 74″ x 86.” My pal Bill Volckening, of Portland, Oregon, owns this quilt. I’m sure he’s keeping it very safe.

Nice work, Mrs. Poyner. It looks good enough to sleep under — don’t mind if I do.


More Beauty In Our World: ‘Curated Quilts’ Has Arrived

posted in: Quilting, Work | 5
Way to go, girls. The debut issue of Curated Quilts is here. Image courtesy Curated Quilts.
Way to go, girls: Behold Issue 01: Linear Quilts. Image courtesy Curated Quilts.


Wonderful things are happening in the quilt world.

All around us, quilters and the people who love them are creating new places for us to learn, grow, be inspired, and gain new perspective on this thing we love so much. Every once in awhile, I’ll hear a quilter grumble how “the quilt world isn’t what it used to be” and I actually agree, though as far as I’m concerned, it’s better than ever.

There’s a new publication out on stands now called Curated Quilts and you should get a copy. It’s true that not long ago, I entreated you to investigate another quarterly publication I felt worthy of your time and resources. That I’m coming to you with another suggestion is proof that what I said above is true: Good stuff is happening in print, people, and I refuse to withhold my praise!

Curated Quilts (CQ) is a 90+ page, advertisement-free publication brought to you by Christine Ricks, (graphic designer and creative director of Missouri Star Quilt Company’s publishing division), and my pal Amy Ellis, who was a terrific guest on Love of Quilting some years ago and who I tapped to write a column on domestic machine quilting for the original Quilty magazine. These girls are legit, is what I’m saying.

Christine and Amy have done something wonderful with their brand-new magazine:  They’re organizing each issue of CQ by quilt type. Issue 01 is “Linear Quilts,” for example, which means that the strippy quilt, the bar quilt, the however-you-call-it quilt with lots of vertical or horizontal lines is the focus of the issue. (Issue 02 is “Log Cabin,” so you get the idea.)

While Curated Quilts is geared primarily for the modern quilter, the fact that they hired me to write historical perspectives on each issue’s chosen quilt style shows Amy and Christine are thinking broadly and thinking big. And, as I have said before, even if you don’t make modern quilts per se, there is so much to learn from this ever-widening corner of the quilt world. The moderns are a force, and watching what they do gets more exciting every passing year. I think I’ve made exactly .5 quilts that could be considered “modern” — I put an asymmetrical back on a quilt, once! — but that has no bearing on my ability to glean much from my modern sisters and brothers. It’s surely the same with you, too, or it could be: As quilters, we’re all people who make useful covers for others out of cloth and generosity. Style is secondary.

Curated Quilts is available at the website, though I’d love it if you’d ask your local quilt shop to order it for you; we gotta support our shops.

A heads-up regarding the price, which is higher than your typical quilt magazine: Like Quiltfolk, Curated Quilts doesn’t include any advertising whatsoever — and make no mistake, advertisements are what fund magazines. Without ads, you have to structure a publication’s business plan differently, i.e., rely on a higher sticker price and hope for a healthy subscription list. What the reader gets in return for her money and her good faith is nothing short of a zen-like reading experience, a magazine that is more like a beautiful book (but cheaper!), a magazine that will look so pretty on your coffee table, your sewing table, and then on your bookshelf, lined up with all the other issues to come, that you will quickly get used to the difference.

That I get to write about quilts for these exciting, emerging, game-changing publications is a dream come true. Heck, I never even dreamed of it, exactly, but I’m so grateful. We should all be very excited when these kinds of projects are launched because it proves the health of quilting in America.

But you don’t need to pick up a copy of Curated Quilts on principle. Pick it up because gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Way to go, girls!

The Mary Fons Quilt Auction Begins at 7:00 PM Tomorrow Night, October 2nd!

posted in: Event, Quilting | 5
Pendennis, reclining on the back of Big Red, one of the quilts being auctioned off tomorrow! Photo: Me.
Pendennis, reclining on the back of Big Red, one of the quilts being auctioned off tomorrow! Photo: Me.


Wow! Setting up an auction is a lot of work. But it’s exciting. It’s actually one of the most exciting things I’ve done in a long time, I have to say. Helping feels great. (It sure feels better than doing nothing.)

In case you missed it: I’m going to sell ten quilts to raise money to benefit those down in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have had their lives turned upside down as a result of Hurricane Maria. I’m donating all the money raised to Americares.

Yesterday’s post gives a lot of details, so check it out.

And this post is going to serve the same purpose: to give more details. Instead of rushing through this and going off half-cocked, I’ve decided to start the auction at 7:00 p.m. CST, October 2, 2017; I will post the link to the auction here on the ol’ PG at that time! The auction will last two days, until October 4, 7:00 p.m. I’m hoping it won’t take that long to sell off quilts for hurricane relief, but who knows? Maybe no one wants homemade quilts by Mary Fons with help from Pendennis and simultaneously help their brothers and sisters in need… Cough! Cough!

A few more important things:

  • There’s a quilt I’ve decided to auction that is one of those should-I-or-shouldn’t-I situations. But I’ve decided on “should.” There’s a quilt I have called “Memories.” It was one of the first quilts I made. We featured it on Love of Quilting (Episode 1709), which some may remember because I talked about how I had actually lost three of the blocks from the quilt! I made this quilt 10 years ago and… It’s gorgeous. It’s really, really gorgeous, y’all, and it’s huge, at 90 x 90. Dawn Cavanaugh longarmed it and it’s just truly phenomenal, almost show quality.But… Well, it’s time. I want to help people and share the love of this quilt more than I want to have that quilt on the back bed, sitting under other quilts, you know? It’s done what I needed it to do for me. It’s given to me. Now, it can give to you, and give to other people. This one is a take-a-deep-breath-and-go-for-it quilt. It’s scary to give till it hurts, I gotta say!
  • I’ve decided that all the quilts will have a “Buy Now” price in case someone is really freakin’ out to get one. I don’t think this will happen (Jinny Beyer/Nancy Crow I am not — and they command higher prices than that!!!) but I figure there could be someone out there who wants to help people and wants a quilt and why not give the option? Can’t hurt, I guess, but I set it super high so that it will encourage people to bid and have fun with this.
  • Will you spread the word? I know, I know: The more people know about this, the more people you’ll be competing with to win! But remember: The point is to raise the most money possible, so please share about this auction on social media and on your various phone trees? We can do this together, and the lights are still off in Puerto Rico. They need us all.

See you tomorrow night!


Let’s Help: I’m Auctioning Quilts for Puerto Rico

A stack of quilts does no one any good, really — unless it can do a LOT of good! Photo: Marianne Fons.
Sneak peek! These quilts aren’t doing much good just sitting up at the house in Washington Island, now are they? Let’s put them to good use, my friends. Photo: Marianne Fons.


It’s hard to know how to help.

Texas. Florida. Mexico. The Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico. There have been so many devastating weather events lately, I spend a good deal of time feeling depressed and frightened and useless when these reports come in. And I feel guilty, too, because what can I do? Does $25 to the Red Cross really help? Should I go to Texas, to Mexico and try to sandbag or something? But how does that even work and won’t I just be in the way? What if I make everything worse and what if I put myself in danger on top of everything else? You probably recognize at least some of this unhappy thinking which, sadly, is 100% ineffective in all directions.

This morning, after clicking through the (more bad) news, my brow furrowed and I sank onto the couch with a groan. Our countrymen and countrywomen in Puerto Rico find themselves facing a humanitarian crisis that could threaten the stability of the region for a long, long time. It’s chaos down there and can you just imagine being a little kid down there right now? How scary it must be? All of a sudden, thinking about that, I just got fed up. I decided that nope, not today, no more stewing, no more gnashing of teeth and groaning and doing nothing. Today, I decided, today I would act, I would do an actionable thing to help someone out there on that island. That’s a U.S. territory, dammit, and more needs to be done.

I have come to understand that what is very helpful in a crisis situation like the one in Puerto Rico, the best thing for me to do is to send money — but I simply do not have extra right now. So I thought, “How could I raise some money?” Walking to and fro on my carpet, sipping my tea (I’m back on tea, coffee’s for the birds, at least in the morning), I remembered that I’ve been needing to make good on something I say to hundreds of people all over the country: Quilters who make lots of quilts should give lots of quilts away. “Don’t keep your quilts in a stack in a closet,” I say, sometimes even shaking my fist. “Give your quilts to people who want or need them! Go make more quilts! You will, anyway! Give it away, people!”

“Mary, Mary, wait a second,” you say. “Calm down.” And then, scratching your attractive head, you ask me why I’m on about quilts when I said I wanted to send money to Puerto Rico.

Wait for it!

Despite my fervent “Give away your quilts” message, which I do stand by — fervently! — I find myself with a quilt surplus right now. Some of these quilts are from my book, Make + Love Quilts, available at fine quilt shops everywhere; some are from the days of Quilty magazine; one or two were “just-for-funs”; one is a sample I made for the fabric line. I’ve given away other quilts over the years but somehow I haven’t yet given these quilts away and you know what? It’s time to turn them into money for people in need.

I’m going to auction off ten (10) quilts tomorrow, October 1st, 2017, and all the money will go to Americares to benefit victims of Hurricane Maria. This is going to be fun and awesome. Ten people will get their very own Mary Fons quilt and hundreds of people will get at least a little bit of help down in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico! And I’ll have more room in my house! This is great!

All of this will go down tomorrow. No, I don’t know exactly what time. I have homework to do and I have to set up this online silent auction thing. All will be revealed, don’t get antsy. Actually, no: Do get antsy! Be excited to buy a quilt from me and help so many people! But because I know there are burning questions, here are a few details for now:

  • Where’s the money going?
    I spent a lot of time looking at which organization I want to send money to and Americares wins. They recently air-lifted $1.8 million in food and medical supplies to the Virgin Islands, and that was just another day at the office, if you will. Their website says: “Hurricane Maria: Emergency Relief Fund; For every $10 you donate today, we can provide $200 in aid — that’s the power of giving to Americares.” Think of the math, you guys: If I sell ten quilts at a minimum bid of $100 and no one bids a penny more, that’s $1000! By Americares’ math, we’re raising $20k, y’all! We can do it!
  • Will you be offended if I ask you how we know you’ll donate the money and not just spend it on candy corn pumpkins for Pendennis?
    Nope, I won’t be offended. I actually have thought of this already and am going to make this part really fun: I’m going to make a video of me writing the check and sending the donation to Americares! Pendennis will come with me and Sophie will probably film it. (Sophie, will you please film the video?)
  • I don’t live in the U.S. and am wondering if this matters?
    I guess I’d better limit participation to folks in the continental United States. But actually, if you want to pay the shipping of a quilt to your homeland, go for it! But you gotta pay shipping because that will eat into the donation.
  • What size are these quilts? And what else can you tell me about them? 
    The quilts are all lap- or queen-size. All the measurements will be listed on the silent auction thingy I’m going to try and make tonight. All quilts will have a label on the back that gives the date and says that I made it, you bought it, and together, we did something to help our brothers and sisters in the human race.
  • Is my payment tax deductible?
    I’m not a 501(c)3, so I think…no. I’m not sure, but I think what’s happening here is that you’re simply buying something and instead of me taking your money and spending it on candy corn pumpkins for Pendennis, I’m giving it away!
  • But what about this and that and how does this work and Mary Fons!!!
    I have never done this before and I don’t know what I’m doing. Please do not get mad at me if I screw something up. We are doing this together. This is not about us, it’s about helping people who have lost everything, everything. That said, I’m going to try and make this easy and fun. Gulp.

HOT TIP: If you don’t subscribe to this blog, I highly, highly recommend doing that now. Because when you subscribe, you get an email in your email box whenever I post a post. Like, instantly, you get an email when there’s a new PaperGirl and that means you’ll instantly know when this whole thing goes live tomorrow. Your email is safe with me; even if I wanted to “sell” your name, I wouldn’t have the first idea about how to do that. Sell what? To whom?

See you on PaperGirl tomorrow!

You and Me and Quiltfolk, Too

posted in: Quilting, Work | 55
Merikay and me, on Merikay's back porch in Knoxville. Photo by Leah Nash, courtesy Quiltfolk.
Merikay and me, on Merikay’s back porch in Knoxville. Photo by Leah Nash, courtesy Quiltfolk.


I never meant to be a quilter and I never meant to work in the quilt industry.

I was working as a freelance writer and performer in Chicago and then, not knowing what I was doing (in so many respects!), I made a quilt that I loved fiercely, a quilt that helped me heal from illness and heartsickness and that was it: My life in quilts began.

Those who know the American quilt landscape know why I stay. It’s the same reason we all stay: for the people.

Fine, we stay for the fabric, too.

But you know and I know we’d throw all the fabric bundles in the world into the sea if it meant we couldn’t keep the friends we’ve made in this quilt culture of ours. Some of the quilters and quilt industry people I’ve met are among my very best friends; many are people I’ve met at events. I’m happy to state the obvious: Quilters are remarkable people. When I think I stumbled into this thing sorta-kinda by mistake, I get quiet, because I might’ve missed it entirely if I wasn’t paying attention (and if I had given up on that first, awful quilt.)

There’s a publication out now called Quiltfolk. It’s not exactly a magazine; it’s not quite a book. The creators call it “a keepsake quarterly” and they’ve got it exactly. Quiltfolk put out its first issue last yaer; when Mom came across it, she said, “Mary, you gotta see this.” And so do you: Quiltfolk is unlike any quilt magazine you’ve seen, I assure you.

There are no ads. There is photography that will make you drool, except you’d better get it together because the paper Quiltfolk is printed on is way too nice to get wet. And, as you’ve probably guessed, the content is all about quilters. Quilt people. You, and me, and us.

Each issue focuses on quilt culture in a state or region of America, and that is a very, very groovy way to shape a thing. This is not a pattern magazine. There are a lot of fine magazines for that and we definitely want those patterns. But Quiltfolk offers a window on the world, each issue an investigation of the quilters who live in a particular area. The first issue was Oregon. Then came Iowa (there may or may not be a Fons person or two in there.) Issue 03, out now, takes you to flippin’ Hawaii.

Then, late last spring, I got a call from Mike McCormick, co-founder of Quiltfolk, about doing some writing for them. I said I’d think about it. (I’m kidding. I pinched myself and muted the phone so I could yip and jump and not scare the poor guy.)

In June, I met up with Mike, Rebekah, and Leah in Nashville, because Issue 04…is Tennessee.

We went to Tennesee! To investigate the rich quilt culture of Tennessee and write about it and take pictures of it! Could you die?? I just about did. This assignment was bliss for a quilt history nerd like me. You might remember when I was down there. I was vague about my trip because fans of Quiltfolk — a growing army at this point — know that when the publication’s next state or region is announced, it’s like Christmas.

Being able to write for Quiltfolk is an honor. I met Merikay Waldvogel, y’all. This woman is a legend. A quilt historian whose work over the decades has strengthened the roots of our world in incalculable ways. She’s a personal hero and she’s just one of the people we interviewed for Issue 04 — there’s so much more.

So I’m breaking my rule about outside links in the ol’ PG. Get Quiltfolk in your life and don’t wait too long: Issue 01: Oregon sold out long ago and Issue 02: Iowa is dwindling. Get ‘Hawaii’ and sign up for Tennessee. You know I don’t promote too much stuff around here; when I do, I mean it. Yes, this magazine is more expensive than your others; but to make this collectible object, a publication without ads, with deep reporting, and lush photography by a woman who has shot photos for National Geographic for Lord’s sake… You will never regret it. I promise you that.

My only regret about this whole Quiltfolk thing is that I didn’t come on as a writer one issue earlier. I missed freaking Hawaii. You owe me one, McCormick. I’ll forgive you if you slate Issue 10 for Alaska.

The Chicago Tribune, Love of Quilting, and Hurray!

posted in: Quilting, Work | 13
Pendennis made this. It is very fancy. Image: Pendennis.
Pendennis made this. It is very fancy. Image: Pendennis.


The media frenzy continues! Quilts are in the news again — and I promise you, no PR agents were hired in the making of this big, juicy article. People just dig quilts, man. That’s a fact.

Two weeks ago, legendary Chicago reporter, radio personality, and consummate gentleman Rick Kogan came over to my place from the Chicago Tribune with a photographer. I offered them a beverage, Rick pulled out a notebook, and we all hung out and talked quilts. They put together a groovy video and Rick wrote a terrific piece all about a certain quilter, ahem. It’s a terrific thing for quilters and quilts when quilters and quilts can be in the news — thank you, Rick.

Part of what’s exciting about all this is that I got to tell the Trib/the world how I’ll be heading to Iowa in a few weeks to be a guest on Love of Quilting! The show is in such good hands with the beautiful and talented Sara Gallegos, of course, but Sara will be able to kick back her heels for a minute while I’m in Iowa to tape three episodes with Mom. Oh, how I do miss TV! I can’t wait to get in there, hang with the crew, and make some work with my favorite sewing pal: my awesome Mother Unit.

That quilt in the background, by the way? That’s one of the projects for the fall taping! So you can say you saw it here first.

Catch you later on the small screen, folks. You don’t even need to change out of your pajamas.


p.s. I did share the article/video on my Facebook page the other day when it hit the web, but I discovered the story was also a full feature in the Sunday print edition this week. And anyway, who says you can only celebrate a neat thing once??

‘Crowdstashing’: Marianne’s Fabric S.O.S.

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting | 25
That's the quilt in progress. And that's my sad mom. We're up at the lake house. It's time to crowdstash. Image: Me
That’s the quilt in progress. And that’s my sad mom. It’s time to crowdstash. Image: Me


People, we have a quilt crisis situation.

It’s time to crowdstash.

Crowdstashing is like crowdsourcing, except for fabric. I mean, this seems like it should be a word. Because if  you want to fund a lemonade stand operation, you can go on sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe and raise money from the proverbial “crowd.” Well, if you desperately need a specific fabric for a quilt — fabric that is definitely not available in quilt shops or online and yes, you checked everywhere — it’s time to call upon the quilting crowd and ask if they might dig into their respective (bottomless) stashes to see if they might have some of what you need. That’s crowdstashing, baby — and it could one day save your very life!

Here now follows an interview I did with La Marianne about an hour ago. I’m up here at the lake house in Door County and we’re back from the Friday night fish fry, but don’t let that fool you for a second. This is serious business.

PAPERGIRL: What’s the situation, Mommy.

MOM: I’m working on a major quilt. It’s likely be slated for a TV episode and for publication in Love of Quilting magazine. It’s a really big quilt: 110″ square. And it’s working, design-wise. The fabric, the patchwork. It looks good.

PG: Okay.

MOM: One of the two most important fabrics in the quilt — one I’ve had in my stash for more than five years — is a wonderful toile print, thin black on a creamy ground. I was thrilled I had so much of it when I started because the setting pieces are really huge: 26” squares, cut in half. But, honey, I made mistakes. In the cutting. One of the squares I cut too small. If you need a 27” square and you cut it 25”, it’s just —

PG: Yeah. That’s…not good.

MOM: Right. And then I wasted more of this fabric in a design error! When you’re making a prototype, you know, these things are going to happen sometimes. But now I’m really over a barrel. I mean, I don’t have enough fabric to do this quilt. And it really has to be that particular toile print in those setting pieces. It’s a real crisis.

PG: Now, I’m generally an advocate for finding a fabric that will work instead or changing the whole direction of the quilt, but a) you and I work differently, and b) you literally can’t do that in this case. This is not a place for winging it. This quilt is a serious deal.

MOM: The painful thing is that if I had not made those cutting mistakes, I would’ve had enough. But… There’s no turning back.

PG: I don’t want to undermine your pain, Mom, but people are going to love reading that you screw stuff up, too. You’re human. You measure incorrectly. You run out of a fabric you cannot get anymore, anywhere online or via the quilt mafia. What was the feeling you had when you realized what you’d done?

MOM: Sinking.

PG: Okay, so let’s take action. Let’s crowdstash. There are millions and millions of quilters out there. Most with incredible fabric stashes filled with fabric new and old. I’ll bet someone has this fabric, Mom, and if we make the deal sweet, you might just be able to get your hands on some. What do you need, exactly?

MOM: The fabric I need is by Anna Griffin for Windham Fabrics. The selvedge says “Anna Griffin for Windham Presents the Dorothy Collection Pattern #27189I”. And in quilt shop terms, I need a one-and-a-half yards.

[EDITOR’S UPDATE, 8/5: Mom needs the black on cream, not the brown on cream. We’ve found a good deal of the brown, but black’s the thing! xoxo, Pendennis]

PG: Oh, come on! Someone will have that. They just have to! What are you/we gonna do to sweeten the pot? You have to give back when you crowdstash. That’s the model.

MOM: Well —

PG: Ooh! We could talk about it on the TV episode! We could share the story about crowdstashing!

MOM: Yep. Great idea. And if I get enough of it, I’ll put it on the back, too. That would be terrific.

PG: And I can write it up for my Quilt Scout column. I’ll do that. That’s a promise.

MOM: Of course, I’ll pay for the material and the shipping. Gee, what if we get a ton of it?

PG: We could make dresses and wear those on the show, too.

MOM: Dresses and headbands and rings. That would be really funny.


***If you indeed have this fabric — and other pictures of it are coming on Facebook tomorrow to help identify — please email me a picture at mary  @ maryfons dot com. I’ll be checking back to see if this crowdstashing thing could actually work. Thank you!!!


I’m Lecturing In Wilmette on Thursday Night, So Come Over!

posted in: Event, Quilting, Work | 2
My view from the stage, Irvine, California, last month. Image: Me oh boy
My view from the stage, Irvine, California, last month…before they started adding chairs in the back! Yeah!! Photo: Me oh boy


Dear (specifically Illinois and maybe upper Indiana as well as lower Wisconsin) Friends:

We need to hang out. Good thing for us, this can happen on Thursday night if you come over to Wilmette. 

“Wilmette?” you say, scratching your elbow. “I’m not far from Wilmette.”

Well, back by popular demand — hurray! — I’m giving a lecture for the devastatingly talented and almost painfully beguiling Illinois Quilters (IQI) in Wilmette, which, as you rightfully point out, is not far from you. The guild meeting begins 6:30 p.m.; my lecture starts at 7:00 p.m. It all goes down at Temple Beth Hillel, 3220 Big Tree Lane, Wilmette. It’s a lovely venue.

There will be quilts. There will be a lecture called “10 Things I Know About Quilting & Life (I Think.)” It’s one of my favorite lectures to give and I’ve refreshed and updated it specifically for this gig. I love those IQI ladies and I fully intend to give them — which is to say you — a terrific evening full of tips, stories, laffs, and maybe even some tears. Me, I like to run the gamut: If you haven’t gotten misty and then laughed through the mist at one of my lectures, I have failed. And I’m simply not in the mood to fail. So there you go. I shall give Thursday evening my dead-level best. Guaranteed.

“But surely this is astronomically expensive, this Mary Fons event,” you think to yourself, and you consider going into the kitchen for more ice cream to assuage the pain of feeling left out and low on cash.

Well, get a load of this, Eeyore: Admission for non-members is just 10 bucks! This is because the IQI ladies are awesome, obviously. You can’t afford not to hop in the car and listen to a good book on tape and then hop out at the venue and be entertained by a fake blonde with a sewing machine.

I’m bringing books to sell and would love to autograph one for you. We can take pictures, shoot the breeze, talk quilt turkey — which would be Turkey red, amirite?? Hey-o! (Just a lil’ quilting joke for my hardcore quilters out there, no big deal.)

Anyway, come over. Quilt-geek out with me.

‘My Bookshelves Runneth Over’ — The Quilt Scout is IN!

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout | 4
It's like this, except for quilt books. Photo: Wikipedia, natch.
It’s like this, except for quilt books. Photo: Wikipedia, natch.

I have a problem.

It’s a book problem. I’ve had it for awhile, but the beast has grown a new head without me cutting off any of the others.

The second Quilt Scout column for July examines this. I know not all of my readers are quilters and, in a friendly kind of way, of course, don’t immediately zip over to the Quilt Scout to see what I have to say specifically to the quilt world at large. It’s okay!

But for those who know the secret handshake, I think you’ll enjoy “My Bookshelves Runneth Over”, which is about how I now have essentially a whole separate library for my quilt history books.

Don’t judge me. Monkey.


posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting | 6
Chicago skyline from 96th floor of John Hancock Building. Photo: Wikipedia.
Chicago skyline from 96th floor of John Hancock Building. Photo: Wikipedia.


I had an important meeting tonight. I’ve been preparing for it for several months, researching and note-taking, reading and reading and writing, then reading some more and writing some more.

The meeting went well. Very well, even. If it hadn’t, I would be sad and I’d tell you I was sad, but I’d probably tell you about some other thing I was sad about. If the meeting hadn’t gone well, I’d be too sad to talk about it, yet.

Anyway, I came home and went up to the roof of my building. In case you don’t read the captions for the images I post, I’ll say it here, too: That image up there is not the view from the roof of my building. My roof view is good, it just ain’t quite that good.

What my view does provide, though, is a 360-degree panorama of Chicago’s skyline. My chosen city’s skyline is bold and beautiful and, in the night, it glitters and twinkles. Great towers — Obsidian monoliths! — thrust up into the sky, each studded with countless diamonds of light and then, just when you can’t take all that beauty, you get a break. Because the whole of the horizon to the east is open, endless. It’s achingly pretty, prettier than any of the rest, because it is empty. Because to the east is the lake. You can’t build on a lake.that’s why Chicago is the best city, the most coveted place for me. Here, you always have room. (It occurs to me that coastal cities like Portland and San Francisco have this going for them, but those cities are on the ocean and the ocean has sharks. We just have big fish and we’re also closer to Iowa, so… I’m partial, is what I’m saying.)

The three-sided skyline which Nature insists upon, that’s why Chicago is the best city, the most wondrous city, at least for me. Here, you always have room. (It occurs to me that coastal cities like Portland, Maine and San Francisco have this going for them, but those cities are on the ocean and the ocean has sharks. We just have big fish.)

So I’m up there, and I’m dreaming big. I’m excited about the future. I’m looking at all the glittery stuff and wishing on every one of the man-made stars. (You can’t see the other stars, not where I live, but man-made stars work just fine because hey: nice job, guys!) And I’m thinking about innovation and motion, about big ideas and progress. I love all those things and I want to be part of it. My meeting tonight made me felt like I could be, with this Next Big Project.

But then I turned to my left and I realized the open horizon was the best view, the view that actually meant the most. The world above Lake Michigan is limitless. The skyline’s got nothing on her, you know?

Me, I don’t feel limitless. A lot of the time, I feel tiny and tight, confined by a long list of factors that crowd me from all sides. I guess that’s my point. Looking to the east tonight, almost by mistake, I realized how small I’ve been thinking.

Postcard From The South.

posted in: Quilting, Work | 13
A church in Shady Grove, Tennessee, 2006. Photo: Wikipedia.
A church in Shady Grove, Tennessee, 2006. Photo: Wikipedia.


I’m down south for a few days to do some quilt research.

The gift of learning about the history of quilts in America is that I get to learn about America’s history in an indelible, singular way. In high school, I didn’t care much about history. This was partly because I was sixteen but mostly because I had no entry point. There was no angle. There was just a textbook, fat with facts regarding the whole of American history starting at Roanoke. How are you supposed to approach something like that? You just try to pass the test. Then you forget — and forgetting is a kind of robbery. It happens to a lot of us.

But when you’re a quilter who wants to know where she came from, you are lucky. Because you have this glorious lens through which to view history. Quilts become a portal. As I’ve been looking into the tale of Tennessee, for example, I’m looking at it vis a vis the quilts that have been made here, the people who have made them, the eras in which they were produced. Therefore, all Tennessee’s political changes, the wars, the prominent citizens who lived here, the state’s various regions, the economy, the generations — heck, even the weather — it all come into focus in full color, so vivid I can hardly believe my brain is able to fire like this.

But the reason is simple: I have context. I have a connection. As a quilter, I’m part of the story — so I care more about the story. That’s human nature — and honey, I’m as human as she gets. That’s why history comes alive for me now: I’m not outside of it, now. The longer I go along in this life, the more interested I am in anything that happened before I was born. Lucky for me, there’s a lot of material. And I get to fly in on my magic carpet quilt.



posted in: Art, Paean, Quilting, Work | 3
Patchwork hanging (detail.) Uzbekistan, 20th century. Photo: Me, at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, NE.
Patchwork hanging (detail.) Uzbekistan, 20th century. Photo: Me, at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, NE.



At board meeting. STOP. Quilt heaven. STOP. Lunch w/hero Jonathan Holstein. STOP. Total dreamboat. STOP. Strategic planning and acquisition viewing. STOP. Good coffee. STOP. Never leaving. STOP. Seriously though. DON’T STOP. STOP. I don’t want to leave. STOP. Okay fine. STOP. Gig on Monday in Irvine CA. STOP. Not possible to stay. STOP. Okay I need to take a shower and get to second day of meeting. STOP. This telegram is costing 9,000 dollars. STOP.

Yours ever XOXO Mary. STOP.

Kelly Bowser Made Me Something I Have Used Every Day For Four Years.

Welcome to my hotel room photo shoot. Yes, I am wearing pink pajamas. Photo: Who else?
Welcome to my hotel room photo shoot. That’s the pouch Kelly made me and yes, I am wearing pink pajamas. Photo: Marty Fans.


Greetings from Lincoln, Nebraska, where it feels like Christmas Eve.

This is because the annual two-day board meeting for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) begins tomorrow morning. Since I’m a board member, I get to go. That’s how board meetings work, I have learned and yes I do feel fancy but mostly I just feel geeky and happy. Jonathan Holstein is here. The only person I’d be more excited about meeting and working with would be Barbara Brackman. After that, probably Madonna.

The only drawback to being here is that I couldn’t stay in St. Louis, which is where I was yesterday. I had to leave Common Threads, a very cool, annual BabyLock event, which — of course! — landed the same weekend as my board meeting. Common Threads is an invitational meetup/think tank kind of a thing for quilters and sewists who work with BabyLock out there in the industry. There were around 55 people at the weekend retreat, some of whom I had never met, some of whom I consider good friends, e.g., Jenny Doan, Vanessa Vargas Wilson, Amy Ellis, and many other terrific, talented women.

Like Kelly Bowser.

Before I tell you why Kelly deserves special distinction, know that Kelly did not ask me to write this, nor am I benefitting in any way from singing her praises and talking about how much I love the thing she designed and how I have used it every single day for four years.

So, Kelly and I met at the first-ever Common Threads four years ago. I liked her immediately: She was funny and smart and warm. Kelly’s a talented designer, a so-good-it’s-annoying sewist, quiltmaker, blogger, and pattern writer, and she’s a mom, wife, and she has a law degree. We got to know each other and became industry pals.

That night, when I dug into the swag bag in my hotel room, I discovered the coolest little handmade cloth pouch! It was kinda puffy and had a zipper and everything. The tag said: “Kelby Sews”, which is Kelly’s brand. I learned that Kelly had designed and made everyone in the group that year (40 people??) their very own pouch, which she calls the “30-Minute Pouch”. (I understand you can download the pattern for free on Craftsy, so check that out.)

I just loved my little pouch. I began using it immediately. It is the perfect size for my lipstick, compact, eyedrops, tiny mascara, and aspirin thingy. That pouch has been in my possesion for four years. It has traveled tens of thousands of miles with me. It’s been in fabulous purses, let me tell you. It went to New York. It went to Washington. It came back to Chicago. It went to Berlin. It’s gone on so many dates. It’s been with me on family vacation. It was at my sister’s wedding.

I’m telling you: Kelly’s 30-Minute Pouch is seriously part of my life. In material objects, anyway.

There’s a lot to love about Common Threads. But my favorite part? Finding Kelly Bowser and rummaging around in my purse to get my lil’ pouch so that I can hold it up and go, “Kelly! Kelly, look!” Last night, a bunch of us girls had a great conversation about the power of the handmade object. You never know where the things you make will end up. It’s wonderful. Not everything that comes in a gift bag stays so long, you know?

And it pays to take care of something: Kelly was delighted to see I’m still devoted to my pouch, but she made me write down my address so she could send me a new one. I’ll allow it. But I’m not tossing the original. She made it for me!

Homespun Handcraft by Ella Shannon Bowles (Part Two!)

posted in: Art, Quilting, Word Nerd | 17
"Square In a Square" quilt, c. 1880. Probably Pennsylvania. Image: Wikipedia, courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“Square In a Square” quilt, c. 1880. Probably Pennsylvania. Image: Wikipedia, courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Yesterday, I introduced the great book I found in a used bookshop. I promised to include an excerpt from the chapter on quilting and I kind of didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

The chapter on the “Old-Time Quilt” is really good. It’s so good that I tried to pare down the excerpt I selected but really could not force myself to cut out a single line! So I was typing for some minutes and you’ll be reading for some minutes, but I wouldn’t have kept typing or suggest you keep reading if I didn’t think it was worth it.

Here’s some of what Ella Shannon Bowles had to say about quilts back in the day. Remember, she was writing in the 1930s about “old-time” quilts in the “pioneer days.” I would go back to the text and pin down the exact years/timespans she’s talking about but I am very tired and still have homework. Let’s just call it “the nineteenth century” and call it good enough.

Enjoy. And may you all have full snuff boxes (!) and a “jolly feeling” all week.

“House-keeping was the goal of every girl’s ambition and her “setting out” was planned for years. When she had assembled a number of quilt-tops, a quilting was held. To it were invited every woman and girl for miles around. Usually the housewife planned to get the quilting out of the way before haying. The quilting-frolics, with their accompaniments of good cheer and jolly feeling, had an important social significance.

Before the guests assembled, the quilting-frames were brought in from the loom-shed. They were long pieces of wood, held together with wooden pegs thrust through gimlet-holes to form a rectangular frame large enough to hold the quilt. The frames were wound with flannel, serving as a foundation for sewing the quilt in place. First, the frames were placed upon the floor and the lining sewn in and pats of wool laid evenly upon it. Then the frames were carefully lifted to the tops of four kitchen chairs, and placed under each corner at such a height as would be most convenient for the workers. Then the patch-work top was laid across the wool-pats and pinned evenly all around the edge. Skeins of blue and white linen thread, braided to prevent snarling, a spool of red thread from the store, a needle-book, wax, and scissors were arranged on a table for the convenience of the quilters.

As early as one o’clock in the afternoon the guests began to arrive. The quilt-pattern was duly admired and then the consideration of the stitches to be used in the quilting was taken up. “Cat-a-cornered” and herring-bone stitch were favorites in rural parts of New Hampshire, though the pine-tree was liked by expert needlewomen. The women who could not gather about the quilt knit or worked on their own sewing. Tongues chattered as fingers flew and soon the quilt was ready to be rolled over the frames as far as finished. During this interval snuff-boxes were passed and then the guests who had not quilted drew up to the frames. When the last row of quilting was reached, the married women left the frames and, with jokes and rippling laughter, the girls began a contest to see who should set the last stitch. The damsel lucky enough to do this would be the first to take a husband!

Now the quilt was taken from the frames, shaken and folded and admired. Mrs. Rollins tells us that the finishing of a quilt was a gala day for the neighborhood. “It was unrolled and cut out with much excitement,” she says. “When Hannah took it to the porch-door to shake it out, the women all followed her, clutching its edges, remarking upon the plumpness of the stitched leaves, and the fineness of its texture. It was truly a beautiful thing, for it was the growth of the farm, an expression of the life of its occupants, a fit covering for those who made it.”

After the  men of the family were given their supper, the table was spread with a diaper-wove huckaback tablecloth. The cherished china was brought out and platters of cold meat, puffy biscuits, tarts, pound and plum cake were set out for tea for the quilters. Guests helped “clear up,” and then the husbands and the sweethearts came to take the women home.”

Another Confession: Tied Quilts.

posted in: Quilting | 36
It just looks so comfy. Image: Wikipedia.
It just looks so comfy. (I could do without the cow skull, however.) Image: Wikipedia.


I confessed the other day that I am scared to go see my doctor. I don’t have my appointment, yet, but I do have about nine friends who emailed, texted, or called me to tell me they’d go with me when I do. And the virtual company I’ll have because of you — yes, you — means that when I report back after the checkup, I’m sure I’ll tell you that it wasn’t so bad after all. Thank you; I’ll keep you posted.

Now that that’s settled, I have another confession. This one is not so dramatic — or is it??  

Here we go:

I love tied quilts. I love tied quilts maybe-almost-kinda-just-a-little-bit-more-than quilted quilts.

Wait! Stop! Don’t throw me out of Quilting!

Here’s the thing: Every quilt is different. If you pay attention and think and cock your head just the right way when you look at a quilt, it will tell you what it needs when it comes to stitching the three layers together. Sometimes the quilt wants to be quilted with a gorgeous feather motif; sometimes it needs straight lines. Some quilts (like this one!) will say “Hand quilt me!” and some say, “Put me on the next UPS truck to the longarmer’s right now.” Other quilts are happy to be quilted on the domestic machine while you watch old episodes of Quilty with Mary Fons. What?!

And some quilts — though they don’t get a lot of press — want to be tied.

I hardly need to explain to the non-quilters out there what a tied quilt is, but just in case Mark is scratching his head, a quilt’s three layers (being the pieced top, the warm middle batting, and the backing fabric) need to be stitched together. Most of the time, this happens with the quilting of the quilt with thread and this is done in pretty patterns and stuff. A tied quilt is a quilt that isn’t quilted at all: It’s tied together with many little knots, basically, across the expanse of the quilt.

The tied quilt is not as sophisticated as the quilted quilt. I think that’s pretty much a fact. I mean, you can’t really add any design elements with tied knots; no lovely feather motifs are going to emerge. And you need very little skill to tie a quilt; if you can tie a knot, you can tie a quilt. So a quilter doesn’t get a lot of points for tying over quilting and in fact may get some snickers from her quilting friends, though I know none of you would ever, ever snicker at anyone’s quilt, ever, because you are kind and welcoming to all quilters everywhere, regardless of pattern, technique, or taste. Ahem.

But here’s the thing: Tied quilts are sometimes…softer. And they may be slightly warmer. Of course, there are many factors that go into the softness and warmth of a quilt, but it’s true that the heavier the quilting, the less warm or soft a quilt will be. A tied quilt has more space for trapping air in between the layers, and that will arguably make it warmer. And because there aren’t a bazillion tiny knots all over the quilt, that sucker’s gonna be soft. Well, as long as you’re not tying with electrical wire or something. (It’s usually embroidery floss or yarn, Mark.) And there’s also the intense, inexplicably satisfying textural thing that happens with all those little ties. Run your hands over all the little nubby ties and you’ll smile. You just will.

I’m tying a quilt right now. As in, I stopped working on it to write this and will return to my task when I’m done. I’m having so much fun. I love it. I mean, I love this tying process. I want to tie more quilts. This particular quilt on my floor right now is so charming with the ties, I can hardly stand it. It’s hitting three ‘C’s: cozy, comfy, and…country.

About a year ago, I heard a Chicago chef talking about her strategy for making the desserts that have made her world famous. She said, “It’s simple. If it’s delicious, it goes on the plate.”

This has become my approach to quiltmaking. If it’s delicious, it goes in the quilt. And I’m telling you, these ties are delicious. I’ll show you when I’m done.

Postscript: I have just realized I may have stoked the ire of longarmers everywhere! Longarmers, fear not: You will never lack for business. If a small tied-quilt trend begins in a small corner of the quilt world, it’s not going to be a problem, I promise. As long as quilters are making quilts, this is good for everyone. Please, please don’t be mad. I will forever need you in my life, believe me…

The PaperGirl “Leaders & Enders” Essay Contest: First Runner Up

Overwhelmed (in a good way) going through essay contest entries at the Merchandise Mart. Photo: Mom.


Real quick, before tonight’s essay:

On Monday, I got an email telling me I didn’t get this thing I wanted. It was a relatively small (but sizeable-to-me) publication grant offered by my university’s student government. I wanted to print a 16-page newspaper I made in my Design For Writers class last semester called “The PaperGirl Review: Extreme Quilt Edition”. The grant would’ve given me the funds and the boost I need to do that project and offer it to all of you. I spent a long time on my application. I wanted it really bad. But I didn’t get it.

I wanted to tell you that before I announce the First Runner-Up for the essay contest. Because if it’s not you, you’re probably gonna feel at least a little lousy; not winning feels lousy. But not winning everything (or anything) is also totally universal. Like I’ve just confessed, it happened to me last week! Don’t let it get you down if you didn’t win this time. You just can’t let it let you down. Shake it off. I will if you will.

As I said yesterday, every essay y’all sent was winning. But choices must be made. And this essay has such a lovely twist at the end and was so unique, it stood out. Congratulations due to Ms. Kurke, Lucy, and Einstein, of course.

First Runner-Up
Kathleen Kurke

It was never about the orange, one way or another. It was all about the dog collar.

I bought it because it looked like Log Cabin pattern. Lucy, the yellow lab of my dog duo, got the quilt-like collar because she was the girl. Einstein, the chocolate lab of the duo, sported a more masculine (but not resembling a quilt block) collar. I looked at Lucy’s collar many times a day as Lucy and Einstein pulled excitedly ahead of me on all our walks, day after day. It worked out well for Lucy, actually, because instead of me sternly telling her to stop pulling, I’d look at her collar and saying to myself, “That collar would make a great quilt.”

One day, I decided to do it: I’d make a quilt like that collar. I started pulling pink and purple from my stash. There was some obvious red in the collar, so I added red to my pile. Off I headed to hang out with my “WDMP Girls”** for a day of stitching and chatting. Upon settling in and starting the chatting part of the day, I unpacked my piles and started ripping strips: lots of pink, lots of purple, and a little red. 

I had started constructing the Log Cabin when one of the Girlz asked, “Where’s the orange?”

“What orange?” I asked. 

“Well, there’s obviously orange in the collar.” 

Orange? I’d never noticed! Turns out, I was orange-blind. Every day, mile after mile, walking the dog and staring at the collar, thinking, “That collar would make for a great quilt,” I’d never noticed the orange.

Generous as quilting pals tend to be, The Girlz quickly pulled from their orange abundance and added orange to my pile. I ripped orange strips and returned to creating my Log Cabin blocks. I picked up red centers and added strips. Pink, purple, red, and now orange strips. Completed block after completed block hit the floor. The collar — I mean the quilt — was coming to life. 

I returned home to lay out my blocks and compose the quilt top. Since my “design wall” is my sewing room floor, I share the space with my dogs — and they expect participation in the layout process. (Quilt blocks go down on the floor and they lay on top.) More than once, their squirming antics have resulted in a rearranging that led to a much more attractive layout than I had originally envisioned. 

The quilt blocks came together beautifully and I saw on the floor what I had dreamed about all those days I looked at Lucy’s collar, except…something was missing. 

I couldn’t put my finger on it. I double-checked my color selection against the collar, thinking perhaps my color bias was bigger than just orange, but the colors in my quilt top mirrored what I saw in the collar. I closed my eyes to rethink the vision I had in starting the quilt. I pictured Lucy, pulling ahead of me. I pictured her collar. I pictured Einstein, walking next to her. 

And then my eyes flew open, realizing what was missing in the quilt: It was Einstein! Not Einstein literally, but the color of Einstein, the spirit of Einstein. The quilt needed chocolate love! So, out came the brown — and the border came to life. 

The quilt is complete, now. My love for my yellow lab, in her quilt collar, and her brown buddy Einstein is now immortalized in my quilt.

**WDMP = We Don’t Match Points


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